At Las Casas Filipinas in Bagac, every house has a story to tell

By Lawrence Casiraya

BAGAC, BATAAN -  Ancestral houses serve as tourist attractions in so-called heritage sites that offer a glimpse of the country's colonial past.

In places like Pampanga, Quezon. Vigan or Bacolod, you will see a lot of these old houses, mostly two-storey bahay na bato (stone houses) that have been preserved as architectural artifacts.

And then there's Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Call it a one-stop site for heritage houses, if you must.

Las Casas is the brainchild of real estate and property magnate Gerry Acuzar, who melded his passion for history and architecture in this heritage resort. Note the term “resort” because Las Casas is located along the shores of Bagac.

But the beach is definitely not the main attraction here. You can go on a daytrip and join the guided tours but I would recommend staying overnight so you have more time to ogle and appreciate the ancestral houses inside and out AND squeeze in a few minutes at the beach or swimming pool.

There are 27 houses in all “and counting”, says Gina Virtusio, marketing and communications chief at New San Jose Builders, who hosted our media tour at Las Casas.

“Gerry (Acuzar) was inspired by his travels to Europe. He feels like young Filipinos are not in touch with the past so this is his way of reviving a sense of history for the current generation,” she says.

Gina says Las Casas is around 70 percent complete because there are more houses currently being reconstructed.

While some people are crazy about vintage and collect old stuff such as coins or antiques, her boss, simply put, buys old houses and reconstructs these as close as possible to their original design and form.

The houses do not serve merely as a feast for the eyes; the guided tours expound on the historical significance of each, down to the juicy chismis (gossip).

Originally constructed in 1913, Casa Lubao, for example, was owned by the prominent Arastia and Vitug clans in Pampanga, who helped send to school the son of one of their househelp. That “Poor Boy from Lubao” boy turned out to be former President Diosdado Macapagal.

Casa Luna, meanwhile, was originally constructed in 1850 in the town of Namacpacan (now Luna) in La Union. The house became of the headquarters of the American army during the Japanese occupation  and here is where they planned the capture of the fabled General Yamashita.

Casa Unisan, the first bahay na bato to be constructed in 1839 in the town of Unisan in Quezon by Antonio Maxino, is where Cafe Marivent is located, offering Spanish and Filipino cuisine. The house was ran over by the Japanese, who executed locals right where the private dining room in the second floor is now. But a carefully concealed escape hatch can be seen in one corner where a few members of the Maxino clan were said to have escaped.

I mentioned only three houses so far but there are far many more (remember there are 27 houses in all), each with its own tale to tell. Like the one that once housed the UP School of Fine Arts and became the training ground for great Filipino artists like Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.

Or the ancestral house of Jose Rizal's mother Teodora Alonso, said to be four centuries old and once stood in the town of Biñan in Laguna, which is currently under restoration. A lot of stories surround this particular house that cannot be found in most history books.

How to get there:

Buses headed for Balanga, Bataan depart daily from terminals in Cubao (Quezon City) or Avenida (Manila). From Balanga, take a jeepney or bus going to to Bagac. Ask the driver to drop you off to the nearest point to Las Casas. From there, you can take a tricycle going to the resort.  By car, travel time to Bagac is around three to four hours via the North Luzon Expressway ( NLEX) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) route.

(To see more photos of Las Casas Filipinas, check out this photo album on the loQal.ph Facebook page.)

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